46 years ago today I remember looking up from the kitchen window, the stepping (why did he always walk that way to work, or was it just this morning?) over the wire holding up the tennis court net (it must have been nice weather because it was unusual for the grass tennis court net to be set up so early), the walking stick, the wave by Mum and I from the kitchen, his cheerful smile… Then I remember being in our next door neighbour’s — the Breen’s — house, their formal drawing room, which we were always forbidden from playing in, the gilt-painted chairs and chaise longe. All so surreal. The three of them looking at me. Poor Mum in the middle. The story that I didn’t really understand about Dad going to see “holy god” and “heaven”.
May 10th arrived, Blackrock Church, the cemetery Deansgrange… I can’t remember my unilateral placing of a red rose on his coffin.
There were so many people… they all seemed to want to distract blond and blue-eyed me..
Why so many people?
Where was he?
That big box they were lowering into the hole in the ground.
The Study (a room in our house Avoca Lodge) was so crowded with grown-ups.
I overheard stories about an afternoon tea of chicken sandwiches at a New Ireland Assurance Board of Directors meeting, a chicken bone, a traffic jam, a hospital called Meath and 4.15pm… the time he suddenly met his maker.
My favourite beverage Schweppes bitter lemon …… laced… the first time I tasted alcohol (someone else’s drink or a well-meaning prank by one of my brothers?)…everything became hazy and very numb…
None of my teachers in either St Michael’s College or The Oratory School knew or cared about the anguish within. I was asleep, anaesthetised, numb…for eight years…. Perhaps quiet Niall was always like that… maybe not quite the full shilling.
I was about 19 when I awoke from the haze thanks to an amazing duo: Dr. Stephen Barcroft and Senator Maurice Rickard O’Connell (The great great grandson of Daniel O’Connell, “The Liberator“). They cared, they understood, and they were both hugely influential in opening my eyes to the world.
… The trauma each one of my father’s sons and his wife had to bear alone in our own silence: Unmerited, totally.
All because of a chicken bone. What a waste?
Liam Sean O’Reilly (26th March 1913 – 8th May 1973), son of Dr. Michael William (deceased 21st November 1971) and Catherine “Cathleen” Mary O’Reilly (deceased 5th July 1957), a son of Synge Street CBS and Clongowes Wood College (1928 – 1931),my father, RIP.
My father died on the 112th anniversary of the birth of soon to be canonised Blessed John Sullivan SJ (8 May 1861 -19 February 1933), who in his role as spiritual director of Clongowes Wood College spent most of his life as a Jesuit at the school. Known for his virtue, goodness, and holiness Fr Sullivan had a great desire to bring out the best in the boys. Unmistakable from my father’s refined and honourable character, Fr John’s influence as a role model and mentor is a legacy I continue to stand by every day.